Build up the middle. That's what the baseball axiom says. That's why middle infielders, especially dynamic shortstops, are very popular on Draft day.
The 2012 First-Year Player Draft had five shortstops go in the first round. Four were taken in 2011, including two in the top 10. Throw in Kolten Wong at second base and that's five middle infielders in that year's first round.
Which up-the-middle amateurs will get taken this year? To find out, tune in to the 2013 First-Year Player Draft, taking place June 6-8, beginning with the Draft preview show on MLB.com and MLB Network on Thursday at 6 p.m. ET. Live Draft coverage from MLB Network's Studio 42 begins at 7 p.m., with the top 73 picks being streamed on MLB.com and broadcast on MLB Network. Rounds 3-10 will be streamed live on MLB.com on Friday, beginning with a preview show at 12:30 p.m., and Rounds 11-40 will be streamed live on MLB.com on Saturday, starting at 1 p.m.
MLB.com's coverage includes Draft Central, the Top 100 Draft Prospects list and Draft Tracker, a live interactive application that includes a searchable database of Draft-eligible players. You can also keep up to date by following @MLBDraft on Twitter. And get into the Draft conversation by tagging your tweets with #mlbdraft.
This year's crop of middle infielders will be hard-pressed to match the previous two years in terms of first-round output. There's a good chance that only two will go that early.
"It's about as weak as it's been in recent memory," one scouting director said. "It seems like we might not have one go off in the top 15 picks, which would be unusual. I think that speaks to the weakness of the class."
The one who has the best chance to crack that first half of the opening round is J.P. Crawford, a high school shortstop from Southern California and nephew of Dodgers outfielder Carl Crawford. The fact that everyone believes he can stay at his current premium position, unlike many high school shortstops who don't have the tools to stay there long-term, certainly helps. There have been some who questioned Crawford's bat, but a strong finish has allowed him to settle in as a middle-of-the-first-round type.
"He can play shortstop and he's been getting better [with the bat]," the scouting director said. "I've been impressed with his defensive play. Not a huge plus defender, but he's very instinctive. He has some flash to his game. His actions aren't always prototypical, with a little longer arm action, but he makes all the plays. He can make the occasional highlight-reel play. He's hit when the heavy hitters have come in to watch him. I could see him hitting 10 home runs, hitting .280, stealing 10-15 bases, and playing an above-average defensive shortstop."
The only other middle infielder who's generated first-round buzz is Tim Anderson, who's made an impressive climb from relative obscurity -- including not being drafted previously -- in his sophomore season at East Central Community College. Unlike Crawford, Anderson is not a slam dunk to stay at short, but he has the tools to excel elsewhere if need be. The only thing really holding Anderson back is his lack of a resume.
top middle infielders
"It's a lighter history than you'd like from a college performer, but he's really blossomed all of a sudden," the scouting director said. "He has some raw skills and there's some risk, but he exploded onto the scene this year after a good summer. I don't think he can stay at shortstop, but because he has athleticism and some arm strength, a team that takes him will give him a shot. I say he moves to second or the outfield if I had to bet. But he's still a 70 runner [on a scouting scale of 20-80] and has some potential with the bat."
Entering the spring, Oscar Mercado was right there in step with Crawford among high school shortstops. Mercado, too, will be able to stay at short, but the Florida product has really struggled with the bat this season. The lack of offensive fireworks has definitely made several teams question how much he'll hit moving forward.
That's not the worry when it comes to Cavan Biggio. Yes, he's Craig's kid, and it seems that the hitting apple hasn't fallen far from the tree. Cavan was also coached by his dad, and most feel he'll hit at the next level. The questions do come up when trying to figure out where he'll play defensively long-term.
"The history of guys who have been drafted as a second baseman out of high school is not really strong," the scouting director said. "It's the bat that you're buying, and you'll get a lot of divergence on where people think he'll play. Some say second, some say third, some say first, some say left field."
There are some differing opinions about whether Hunter Dozier, the only four-year college performer in the top five among middle infielders, can stay at shortstop long-term. He could get the chance to show what he can do there at the outset, but many see a move to third down the line. Dozier has put up good numbers this year, and college performers typically do well on Draft day, though he has done it in the lesser-known Southland Conference. Dozier, like Anderson, seems to be taking advantage of the dearth of up-the-middle talent to help his Draft stock.
"He's putting together a good season. There's power, there's speed -- he's a really good athlete," the scouting director said. "There's a lot to like. He stands out. There's versatility. You could see him playing anywhere, but he's athletic enough where you give him every chance to play shortstop.
"The down side is he's done it in a smaller conference. And he's a beneficiary of a weaker class. In a better class, I couldn't see him going any earlier than the third round."